Thursday, September 8, 2016

a-ha - Take On Me

No one in their right mind could consider a-ha's monster hit "Take on Me" to be a rare song or video, which begs the question:  have we (finally) lost our minds?  The answer to this question may well be yes, but there is a method to our madness for this video.

Let's get the obvious out of the way first:  "Take on Me" was the song that seemingly every teenage girl (and many boys) loved during 1985.  The song hit #1 all over the world, including the U.S.  The video was in heavy rotation for seemingly all of 1985 and beyond, and won six MTV VMAs.  Video savant Steve Barron combined pencil animation with live action in an innovative and creative way; I think it is fair to say that many critics would view "Take on Me" among the greatest music videos ever made.  For younger readers, folks who want to reminisce, or anyone who was locked in a closet for 1985, the original clip is below.

Yep, still a great video.  a-ha would go on to have a second top 40 hit in the U.S. with "The Sun Always Shines on TV" and became bonafide stars in Europe through the mid 1990's.  Since 1994, a-ha has broken up and re-formed several times, most recently in 2015.

In order to get to the rare video, a little about the song itself is helpful.  The origins of "Take on Me" go back to two earlier songs -- 1981's "The Juicey Fruit Song" which evolved into "Lesson One" which in turn became "Take on Me" in early 1983.  The band recorded a demo shortly afterwards, and recorded a different version after they were signed to Warner Bros. in 1984.  The second version of the song was released, and a video was made - so here is your rare video:

Though the song and video are fine, I think it is fair to say that they were unexceptional.  At this point, the band caught a huge (and I mean huge) break.  Warner Bros. in the U.S. took a liking to the group, and decided to invest in them.  First, Warner helped a-ha re-record the song (with producer Alan Tarney, who was previously featured on ERV for "No Time to Lose"). Then, they brought in Steve Barron to make the top video.  Lastly, Warner aggressively promoted the video, even showing it before movies.

Needless to say, this record company support led to the huge success of the single (and album).  Unfortunately for the group, synth pop fell out of favor, and it appears that Warner's promotional efforts turned elsewhere.  Still, a-ha can't complain too much:  they became the first Norwegian act to have a #1 hit in the U.S.